Abnormalities of the thalamus are thought to be central to the pathophysiology of schizophrenia. These abnormalities include altered structure and shape of the thalamus itself and possibly changes to the adhesio interthalamica (or massa intermedia), the gray matter bridge connecting the 2 thalamic lobes. However, it is not clear to what extent these abnormalities are determined by the genetic liability for schizophrenia.
To investigate thalamic volume and the presence of the adhesio interthalamica in monozygotic (MZ) twins concordant or discordant for schizophrenia.
Study of MZ twins.
Patients were drawn from inpatient and outpatient clinics. Twin controls were recruited from a volunteer twin register and through media advertisements.
A total of 123 twins participated: 19 MZ twin pairs concordant for schizophrenia, 15 MZ schizophrenic twins and 16 MZ nonschizophrenic twins drawn from 17 pairs discordant for schizophrenia, and 27 MZ twin pairs without schizophrenia. Groups were matched for age, sex, handedness, level of education, parental socioeconomic status, and ethnicity.
Main Outcome Measures
The volume of the thalamus (including right and left hemispheres) was measured (in cubic centimeters) and the presence of the adhesio interthalamica was ascertained from structural magnetic resonance images.
Concordant twin pairs displayed significantly reduced thalamic volume compared with control twins, even when covarying for effects of whole-brain volume, age, and sex. There was a significant linear decrease in thalamic volume (control greater than discordant nonschizophrenic greater than discordant schizophrenic greater than concordant). In all groups, right thalamus was larger than left thalamus. There was no difference across groups in the frequency of the adhesio interthalamica.
Volumetric thalamic abnormalities in schizophrenia occur in twin pairs concordant for schizophrenia. These abnormalities may mark the substantial genetic contribution to the illness seen in concordant twin pairs, whereas the adhesio interthalamica is unlikely to be affected in schizophrenia.